What happens when you are a prisoner and you don’t know it? Unfamiliar with any of society’s real norms, the teenagers in Dogtooth – they aren’t given names by their parents but just referred to as ‘the eldest’ or ‘the youngest’ – are given new ones by their parents, and make the rest up. The salt on the table is referred to as the ‘phone’; nothing about the outside world is known. Childlike, naive and unpossessing of the power of proper language as a way to express themselves, the siblings are often sweet and loving, but irrecoverably damaged.

What follows is a darkly funny, tragic take on parental control and skewed family dynamic. Punctuated by sudden and terrible bursts of violence, the film breaks every rule in mainstream cinema’s rulebook. Avoiding any kind of buildup for these shocking events, and indeed avoiding familiar plot trajectory, resolution or message, it is stunning cinematically and highly disturbing.

I’m not a fan of audience-bating or gratuitous violence, or even arty violence in the most part: Michael Haneke’s Funny Games left me on edge for days, and I’ve no desire to watch Antichrist or Michael Winterbottom’s upcoming The Killer Inside Me. This felt different, perhaps because it was funny in an albeit macabre way and bizarre in turns, or maybe just because it wasn’t quite so horrifying. At it’s cleverest it refuses to answer questions, instead leaving you wondering about the nature of psychological harm, the arbritrary nature of many of society’s ‘norms’, and what exactly you mean when you use the word ‘zombie’.


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